Waltz, Nicaea and Shea

David Waltz (no great fan of mine, if memory serves correctly) has nevertheless provided a helpful two-part post in response to my rebuttal to Shea’s post on Nicaea. Mr. Waltz has, I suspect, read more about the Nicene and early post-Nicene period than most people ever will. So, I appreciate that he took the time to read and comment on my post.

Waltz concedes the central theses of my post, namely that Augustine was referring to the council of Nicaea, and that Nicaea was not properly a “local council.” Once those points are conceded, Shea’s argument is shot. The central, and oft-repeated, premise of Shea’s post was that Augustine was referring to a local council.

One might expect that Waltz would realize that the point of the post was right on the money, and stop there. He did not. I won’t speculate on his motives. After all, a man of his reading may simply have wanted to correct what he perceived to be some errors in my post. For such correction, where appropriate, I am always appreciative.

Let’s consider Waltz’s points:

Waltz corrects some citation and quotation problems in a post by the reader to whom Shea’s post was addressed. While I appreciate Waltz’s attention to details in this regard, I haven’t bothered to confirm these matters, since they don’t seem to have any direct connection to my own post.

Waltz corrects a typo in the name of the editor (“JohnE” should have been “John E”) and pointed out that the quotation actually begins on page 281 (the citation had indicated p. 282). These errors have been corrected in the post. Thanks very much to Waltz for pointing them out.

Waltz next discusses the “little background” I provided with respect to the quotation from Augustine. Waltz writes:

Strictly speaking, TF’s “little background” is deficient, for it fails to accurately portray the historical context of Augustine’s statement. The period between the council of Nicaea in 325 and Augustine’s Contra Maximinum Arianum (427/428) was one of the most contested in the history of the Christian Church; more than 130 councils were convened! (Consult Ramsay MacMullen’s, Voting About God, pp. 3, 4 for the names and dates of the councils—see this thread for information about the book).

Without discussing his precise claims, I willingly concede that my background (which was completely accurate) was nevertheless not as complete a picture as could be drawn. In other words, Waltz has here mistaken the idea of precision (detail) with accuracy. Nevertheless, his error is of little significance, so let us proceed to his next comment regarding the background.

Concerning this turbulent period, Shea is certainly correct when he states that, “the Church Universal has not yet arrived at a consensus“. Directly related to this historical fact is [the] nature and role of the various councils that were held during this period; the understanding that some councils were “ecumenical”, that the “ecumenical” councils were infallible when teaching on faith and morals, and needed to be accepted de fide, was a much later doctrinal development. As such, to write that, “Augustine didn’t share the epistemology of modern Rome“, concerning nature and role of councils convened in 4th and early 5th centuries, is to state the obvious. IMO, TF is pretty much wasting our time here, for even Shea is in agreement with him on this point!

Shea certainly did not express an opinion that Augustine doesn’t share the epistemology of modern Rome. In that regard, Waltz is wrong. Which is why Waltz’s view about time being wasted should be revised. On the contrary, Shea claims that Augustine “is, instead, assuming a thoroughly Catholic backdrop to the whole discussion.” (emphasis added) Perhaps Mr. Waltz thinks Shea doesn’t mean “Catholic” to refer to the modern Roman conception of what it means to be “Catholic,” but such a hypothesis is untenable. In short, my comments were a needed corrective to Shea, and I am glad that in substance Waltz agrees and even thinks my point is “obvious.” It’s obvious to Waltz, but it wasn’t obvious to Shea.

The idea of the universal church arriving at a consensus by the time of Augustine on the topic of Arianism is, of course, to some extent an anachronism. In that sense, Shea is – we might say – accidentally correct (you will notice I didn’t dispute his claim in my original post, I merely highlighted it and pointed out its inconsistency with the modern Roman view). He didn’t mean to imply what he implied about Nicaea, but in this case we might almost say that two wrongs make a right. Viewed through the lens of modern Roman dogma regarding conciliar authority, Nicaea did represent a consensus view. However, there are serious problems with that kind of claim.

Waltz continued:

Moving on, TF’s statement that, “Maximinus was an Arian“, is, at best, breathtakingly simplistic. An Arian is one who adheres to the basic theology of Arius—did Maximinus endorse Arius’ basic theology? No, he did not. In fact, he emphatically denied THE defining doctrine of Arius, the doctrine that the Son of God was created ex nihilo; note the following:

The part of Arius’ doctrine which most shocked and disturbed his contemporaries was his statement that the Father made the Son ‘ out of non-existence’ (ἐκ οὐκ ὄντων). (R.P.C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, p. 24.)

This particular view of Arius [i.e. creation of the Son of God ex nihilo] has never been supplied with a convincing antecedent. It has always been an erratic boulder in his doctrine, preventing that doctrine being easily fitted into any known system…(Ibid., p. 88)

Waltz’s criticism here is bizarre. The title usually given for Augustine’s work from which the quotation in question comes, as Waltz knows, is “Contra Maximinum Haereticum Episcopum Arianorum libri duo.” That “Arianorum” is the Latin word that we translate “Arian.” It’s normal and customary to refer to Maximinus as an Arian, without implying that his views are identical to those of Arius.

Moreover, R.P.C. Hanson identifies Maximinus as an example of a source for Arian writing (p. 100), as an example of Homoian Arianism (p. 126) of the work that Waltz cited, even though Hanson also acknowledges that Maximinus “explicitly denies” the tenet that Waltz highlighted above (p. 564).

At most, Waltz has correctly identified that there is more than one species of Arians, and that the normal practice of referring to Maximinus as an “Arian” is to paint Arianism with a broad brush.

Waltz continued:

Before getting to Maximinus’ theology, I think it would be prudent to supply a little background. Shortly after the council of Nicaea (325), the ordained bishops of the Christian Church at large split into 4 distinct factions; modern patristic scholars have termed those 4 factions as: 1.) the homoousians, those who accepted the Nicene Creed; 2.) the homoiousians, those who replaced homoousios (same being/essence/substance) with homoiousios (like being/essence/substance); 3.) the homoians, those who rejected the terms homoousios and homoiousios as being un-Biblical, and embraced the view that the Son of God was homoiōs (like, similar, in the same way) with respect to God the Father; and 4.) the ‘Neo-Arians’, sometimes termed the anhomoians (see Hanson, Search, p. 598 for the reason why many modern patristic scholars prefer the name ‘Neo-Arian’ over others).

Of the 4 factions, only the ‘Neo-Arians’ accepted Arius’ most basic tenant that the Son of God was created ex nihilo, with the other 3 emphatically rejecting this doctrine.

Now, Maximinus was a staunch homoian, his theology being essentially that of the creed universally adopted by Christian Church at a council convened in 360 AD at Constantinople, which creed was a slight revision of so-called “Dated Creed” that was adopted in 359 AD via the convocation of a general council by emperor Constantius II, which convened at two separate locations: Ariminium (now Rimini) and Seleucia.

Of course, none of this contradicts anything I said. In fact, most of what Waltz said is relatively non-controversial (in terms of the various divisions that existed, and so forth). One surprising point is Waltz’s claim that regarding the creed of Ariminium, namely that it was “the creed universally adopted by Christian Church at a council convened in 360 AD at Constantinople… .

Whether or not we should dispute this claim, I think Waltz must admit that Shea cannot accept this claim. Shea cannot admit that the “Christian Church” universally accepted an Arianizing creed, such as that of Ariminium.

Waltz wraps up the first part of his post this way:

Commenting on this creed of 360 AD, the esteemed patristic scholar, J.N.D. Kelly wrote:

Arianism, it will be appreciated, is really a misnomer, for the creed asserts none of the articles of the old heresy [i.e. Arius/Arianism] and explicitly condemns Anomoeanism [i.e. ‘Neo-Arianism’]. (Early Christian Creeds, 2nd edition, 1960, p. 294.)

So, is it accurate to call Maximinus an Arian? With all due respect to the scholars that do attribute the label “Arian” to Maximinus, to do so is, IMO, a “mis[n]omer“, for Maximinus emphatically denied (as did all homoians) the most basic tenant of Arian theology: the creation of the Son of God ex nihilo. To call Maximinus an Arian would be analogous to calling someone who emphatically rejects TULIP a Calvinist!

Kelley himself, while conceding that the term is something of a misnomer, calls the very chapter from which Waltz is citing “The Triumph of Arianism,” of which the very creed to which Waltz has been referring is the crown jewel. So, while it is a misnomer in the sense that the creed isn’t fully consistent with Arius and/or Neo-Arianism, it is a description that is given to it not only by Hanson but also by Kelley.

Regarding TULIP, the comparison is somewhat inapt. TULIP was the production of the Synod of Dordt, held after Calvin’s death. And even to this day, Amyraldians insist that Dordt departed from Calvin on the “L” (they’re wrong, but that debate clearly is for another topic and day).

Moving from part 1 to part 2, Waltz begins:

In part 1, I demonstrated that Maximinus was not an Arian, but rather a homoian, and that homoian Christian bishops condemned Arianism.

This insistence on not referring to Homoian Arianism as “Arianism,” is not something that Waltz actually demonstrated is necessary. Indeed, his own sources refer to Homoian Arianism as a species of Arianism, even if not fully consistent with Arius’ own beliefs.

Waltz continues:

TF then states that, “Augustine was the orthodox (“catholic” but not “Catholic”) bishop of Hippo, as everyone knows”. Once again, TF is anachronistically portraying this historical period, for ‘orthodoxy’ was anything but a settled issue. (As for Augustine being “catholic” but not “Catholic“, I will deal with this silliness in a subsequent post.)

Waltz is here arguing against a straw man. I didn’t insist that orthodoxy was a “settled issue,” at the time when Augustine was debating with Maximinus. Shea would need to insist that, given the modern Roman view of councils. I, however, am under no such obligation. I’m not sure why, given his penchant for decrying anachronism (even without it being offered), Waltz finds the distinction between “catholic” and “Catholic,” silly. However, since he has left it for another post, and since it was a relatively minor point in my own post, it can safely be tabled for now.

Waltz once more:

He then gives one a misleading impression with his statement that, “both Augustine and Maximinus were in the same locale and region“—fact is, Maximinus had just arrived in Hippo with, “Count Sigiswulf (Segisvultus), a Goth,” who in 427, “led a Roman army to Africa in order to suppress the rebellion of Bonifacius” [see John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 1, Vol. 18, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J., Debate With Maximinus, Introduction (New York: New City Press, 1995), p. 175.]—his ordination, and conciliar loyalty, had NOTHING to do with the Hippo locale/region. Yet once again, though neither Shea, nor TF have a good grasp of the historical landscape of this period, Shea is the more accurate.

Waltz’s points about where Maximinus came from doesn’t really have a bearing on the fact (undisputed by Waltz) that Maximinus was the Arian bishop of Hippo (Waltz doesn’t like that “Arian” label for the homoians, as noted above). In fact one scholar expressed it this way:

Nearly ten years after his Answer to the ‘Arian Sermon’ (between A.D. 427 and A.D. 428), Augustine entered into a public debate at Hippo with a major representative and vigorous defender of Homoian Arianism. Bishop Maximinus had only recently arrived in North Africa in the company of Count Sigiswulf (or Segisvultus), a Goth who led a Roman force against a local uprising, and who had encouraged this encounter with Augustine in order to secure peace between Arians and Catholics in the region.

Studia Patristica vol. 38, St. Augustine and His Opponents: Other Latin Writers, Wiles and Yarnold eds., “The Significance of the communication idiomatum in St. Augustine’s Christology, with special reference to his rebuttal of later Arianism,” by Joseph Torchia, O.P., pp. 314-15.

Waltz is dead wrong about Shea being more accurate. Shea had claimed, “[Augustine] regards himself as bound by the teaching and discipline of the synod whose jurisdiction is over his local geographic region, and the person he is writing to likewise feels bound by his local synod,” (and Shea compared the situation to that of local fasting rules in Rome vs. Milan) but in fact the issue wasn’t geographic and at the time of the dispute, the two bishops were in the same locale, directly contrary to Shea’s analogy to Milanese vs. Roman fasting rules.

Waltz continued:

The only point that TF has “debunked” is that neither of the two councils being discussed were “local“, the rest of his musings are [sic] do not fit the facts. FACT #1: no council and/or creed up to this period was recognized as universally binding; FACT #2: if any council up to the date of the debate between Augustine and Maxinimus (427/428) had any semblance of a claim to universal authority it was the dual councils of Ariminum and Seleucia, which were convoked by emperor Constantius II in 359. These two parallel councils were really essentially one council held in two different geographical locations for the sake of logistics. The estimates of the number of bishops that attended range between 550+ and 750+, which means that this dual council was significantly larger than council of Nicaea held in 325. Not only the size, but also the geographical and theological representation was considerably more significant—Augustine was engaging in a bit of ‘damage control’ when he demanded that competing councils be left out of the equation.

Waltz here concedes the main point of my post, and yet insists that the rest of my “musings” “do not fit the facts.” But actually, Waltz cannot point to any of my musings that don’t fit with his two purported facts. Moreover, of course, Shea is not free to admit with Waltz that Nicaea was not universal binding. I am free to agree with Waltz on that point, but Shea is not – because Shea’s church insists on a particular view of conciliar authority – one that wasn’t shared by Augustine.

Waltz is right about the fact that the size of the councils of Ariminum and Seleucia were (in combination – and perhaps even Ariminum individally) considerably bigger and more geographically diverse than Nicaea. That’s one of those inconvenient conciliar truths I try to warn people about, when they place their confidence in large councils.

Waltz’s final point is to argue that Augustine’s quotation makes it sound as though Maximinus had tried to suggest that Ariminum was binding, whereas Maximinus had likewise agreed to settle the matter by the Scriptures. Of course, the purpose of my post was not to suggest that Maximinus believed what Shea believes about councils, or even to discuss at all what Maximinus thought of conciliar authority. So, while I might quibble over whether Augustine’s comments give a misleading impression regarding Maximinus’ position, it seems Waltz’s comments in Maximinus’ defense are at best tangential to the thrust of my post.

Waltz concludes:

To sum up, apart from incorrectly terming the councils of Armininum (359) and Nicaea (325) as “local“, Shea’s assessment that, “What Augustine is doing is appealing to a common authority in a dispute where the Church Universal has not yet arrived at a consensus“, is quite accurate, whilst TF’s overall critique is significantly flawed.

As noted above, if Shea is correct in that sentence, it is only because, although he has a wrong view of conciliar authority, he mistakenly thought that Nicaea was a local council. Thus, while Shea may be accidentally correct in that statement (as mentioned above – and as was not denied in my original post), Shea’s underlying rationale is at odds with his Roman views of Nicaea.

So, thanks again to Waltz for his additional comments and – frankly – reinforcement of the points I was making. I don’t find Waltz’s objection to referring to Homoian Arians as “Arians,” to be particularly compelling, and that seems to be the major beef he has with my post. I also reiterate my thanks to him for his identification of the editorial problems in my original post to which I’ve now attended.



One Response to “Waltz, Nicaea and Shea”

  1. natamllc Says:

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